Does Smoking Affect Your Singing Voice? – Scientific Revelations

Between two songs, there’s always a good moment for the frontman to light a cigarette and have a relaxed chat with the audience. It looks cool and serves the Rock ‘n’ Roll image well.

But is it a good idea either? There’s a lot talking about vocal health and how to keep in shape for long-term career maintenance.

Does smoking affect your singing voice? If yes, to which extent? Or is it much ado about nothing?

In the next few paragraphs, I will address all these questions and shed an objective light on this ongoing discussion.

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Are Singers More Prone To Smoking?

Currently, there are one billion smokers worldwide.

While you could get the impression, that the lifestyle of artists with heavy partying would show a higher rate of smokers, recent statistical outcomes paint a different picture.

According to multiple surveys1 singers (clustered with arts, designs and entertainment) are in the mid range of all professions, with ranging smoker rates between 14 to 17%.

People, who work in construction and in food services (!), have the highest smoking rates with around 30% (Fig.1)industries-versus-smoking-prevalence

Graphic by vapourlites.com

Ongoing trends since 1974 the proportion of smokers, who have quit, overtakes the proportion of current smokers. When you look at the vast amount of anti smoking campaigns and restrictions that were put in place over the last years, it seems plausible.

Science Says Smoking Lowers The Voice

I found some interesting studies conducted with smokers and non-smokers.

They measured different vocal parameters, e.g. fundamental frequency to analyze the impact of smoking to the voice.

Smoking lowers the voice

Results of a Brazilian study showed, that in a relatively short time period (< 10 years), fundamental frequency parameters were significantly decreased in all smoking groups. The effect was especially seen in female smokers, which had a frequency decrease of 14Hz on average, compared to the non-smoker group.

This means that, if you smoke for couple of years, your voice gets deeper and you lose some of your nice high notes. The vocal change is considered to be a result of vocal edemas due to tobacco exposure.

Observations From The Music Biz

When you take a look at some popular singers, you may be surprised, who else is a smoker or used to smoke.

Eddie Vedder
Lady Gaga
Tom Waits
David Bowie
Freddie Mercury
Ville Valo
Nat King Cole
Enrico Caruso (!)
Adele
Axl Rose
Jim Morrison
Amy Winehouse
Ronnie James Dio
David Coverdale
Robert Plant
The Beatles
The Rat Pack

Hardly did you hear the story, that one gave up smoking due to vocal problems. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to idolize smoking singers. No, don’t smoke at all, it’s harming your overall health.

But let us for a minute judge it objectively, by answering some interesting questions.

– How could one of the best tenors of all time, Enrico Caruso, be a heavy smoker and still deliver the best high C performances?

– How could someone like Dean Martin, who eventually died of lung cancer, keep his unique smooth voice throughout his entire career?

How To Smoke And Sing Like An Angel

If, despite all unfavorable health prospects, you can’t or don’t want to quit smoking, you should take some actions to keep your voice in good shape.

The best prevention for a damaged voice is singing with a solid and healthy technique.

If you learn how to use the airflow properly and sing efficiently with only minor engagement, you will enter a world of maximum outcome with only little effort.

Singer on stage non-smoker

Moreover, alcohol has a much deeper immediate impact on the vocal chords than cigarettes will ever do.

Remember the last morning after a boozy night.  When you woke up to answer the phone, you sounded like Barry White. That’s the result of swollen vocal chords. In this respect, smoking and drinking is a terrible combination.

My Personal Experiences

I was a smoker for 15 years. My daily average nicotine consumption roughly comprised one pack of cigarettes. Although I’m happy, I finally quit, (what was much easier than I thought in the first place), I leave it up to anyone’s own decision.

Throughout my “smoking career”, I started taking voice lessons and seriously working on my vocal skills. There was a period of 10 years, where smoking and singing overlapped and a single year, where I stopped smoking for the first time.

I can only speak for myself, but interestingly I didn’t notice that big of a difference, when I was still smoking and the times of cessation. Neither did I have a clearer voice, nor did I experience more ease/more struggle within my given vocal range.

That lead me to my personal conclusion, that the effects smoking has on your vocal skills might probably not be as serious as supposed.

On the other hand, I was never a heavy-touring singer, who had to go to his vocal limits night after night. That might have an additional impact.

Conclusion

Without any doubt, smoking is an unhealthy habit, which can seriously harm your health. There’s no good reason to smoke at all and if you still do it, quit, as fast as you can.

Nevertheless, looking at the effects, smoking can have on ones singing voice, there are ambivalent findings.

On the one hand, science proofed that smoking over several years can cause vocal edemas, which result in a lower voice. On the other hand, there are multiple examples of famous singers, who heavily smoked and yet kept their voices on a high level throughout their careers.

However, there are some good strategies to keep your singing voice in shape, even if you don’t want to say goodbye to your daily dose of tobacco. First and foremost, singing with proper and healthy technique, will save your voice for many, many years.

References

1. Cigarette Smoking Trends Among U.S. Working Adult by Industry and Occupation: Findings From the 2004–2012 National Health Interview Survey; Nicotine Tob Res. 2015 May; 17(5): 599–606.
2. https://www.vapour.com/latest/industries-with-the-highest-and-lowest-smoking-rates/
3. Office for national statistics: Adult smoking habits in the UK: 2017
4. Early effects of smoking on the voice:A multidimensional study; Med Sci Monit,2004;10(12):CR649-656

Did you like what you just read? Are you a singing smoker or have you quit, already?

Tell me what you think about this topic and/or your experiences. I’m curious!

Rock on
Felix

 

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Felix

6 comments to “Does Smoking Affect Your Singing Voice? – Scientific Revelations”

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  1. Shane Black - November 3, 2018 Reply

    Hi Felix, 

    Thanks so much for sharing this article and taking the time to examine the effect that smoking has on you singing voice. 

    I’ve always known that smoking was a very unhealthy habit that could lead to a number of medical conditions but I had no idea that it could actually affect a persons singing voice. Very interest indeed and very relevant for performers!

    Also, I should congratulate you on giving up smoking yourself. That in itself is an achievement you should be proud of. 

    Cheers, 

    Shane

    • Felix - November 5, 2018 Reply

      Thank you Shane, as I said, it was easier than I thought. Truth is, I never tried desperately to quit. When the time was right, I suddenly didn’t perceive me as a smoker. I literally woke up and the instantly said to myself:”I’m a non-smoker”. Plus I monitored my non-smoking days/weeks/months with a “Quit smoking”-app and that massively supported my actions.

  2. Babsie Wagner - November 3, 2018 Reply

    I would definitely believe that smoking would hurt the voice, I mean look what it does to the “talking” voice.  You can always tell an older smoker from a non-smoker just by listening to them talk.  That raspy voice is a sure indicator that they smoke or have smoked, right?  I was actually amazed to see that alcohol has a greater impact on the voice than cigarettes?  Wow – that darned alcohol is always a culprit!  LOL!!

    I was just as surprised to see the list of smoker-singers.  I did not know half of those people ever smoked.  Wow.

    • Felix - November 5, 2018 Reply

      Hi Babsi, thanks for commenting. Just two things: Those raspy voices, you’re talking about don’t always show up in smokers. My theory is, that it has a lot to do, with how you use your voice. Most professional singers, know how to sing economically, which makes a huge different. That’s why just a fraction of them develops an unhealthy voice. Some singers like Rod Stewart have a husky voice, although they never smoked a cigarette.

  3. Andre - November 3, 2018 Reply

    Hi Felix

    Wonderful article and one worth sharing. Many years ago (many that is) I used to be in a band although I wasn’t the front line singer but one of the singers nevertheless. 

    I used to be able to hit some high notes but over the years of smoking I did notice that I can no longer hit those notes and it did lower the voice as well. So what you state is true. 

    Although I gave up the music industry 20 years ago I still smoked and it also affect not only the high registrar but also my lungs which means I couldn’t breath as deeply or effectively as once needs which singing. Back in 2008 I had a major heart attack which was mostly with the constriction of the arteries due to the smoking as I was eating fairly health so food wasn’t the issue smoking was. 

    Glad to say since the heart attack I gave up pretty much cold turkey I did try one after I got out of hospital out of curiosity sake but felt sick so with the 3/4 of what was left I ripped them up and threw them in the bin. 10 years later smoke free. 

    But some damage was done and to this day still can’t hit those hit notes as clearly as before. 

    The breathing has improved and can now take super deep breaths and also hold them in without that need to cough.

    I did notice at times I could get close to some higher notes but still not as the way I would like. But now I am 60 so I don’t have that urge to be in a band did all that good (and bad Stuff) then but still a wonderful experience to keep

    So this post rings true to me with the singing part as well as the health part so thank you for that.

    Wishing you well

    Andre

    • Felix - November 5, 2018 Reply

      Hi Andre, thanks for sharing your (very interesting) story. Great, you quit and never went back! Seems, we have some things in common. All the best and never give up the singing part 😉

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